Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Elder law-related’ Category

I was watching a segment on Sunday about America’s oldest teacher, Agnes ‘Granny’ Zhelesnik of New Jersey, who just turned 100 and is still working 35-hours a week teaching home economics to kids. Going strong five days a week, she hasn’t called in sick since she was 98. And the children adore her.

Living deep.

LAW AND JUSTICE 63

Which prompted me to wonder whatever became of Alice Thomas who graduated from law school at age 79.  That was four years ago. And it was news then because Thomas was at the time, the oldest person ever to graduate from McGeorge Law School in Sacramento. It was another of those seasoned citizen atta-girl/atta-boy moments I like so much.

For instance, there’s Charles Elliott who last year turned 100-years old and marked that milestone by skiing at the Colorado ski resort he helped found. He made four runs before stopping to sip champagne and eat cake with members of the Gray Wolf Ski Club.

And when it comes to , who can forget Ilona Royce Smithkin or or ‘over-the-rainbow’ Dorothy Ellis or ski slope silver surfer 91-year old Klaus Obermeyer or centenarian Octavio Orduño — who I hope is still riding his bike well past 100.

Although it’s increasingly more commonplace, most of us won’t be hitting the century mark — much less going beyond it like the now late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who famously called turning 103 a ‘crap’ birthday. Just the same, these are people who grabbed life by the throat. And who regardless of advancing years, chose to live deep and to continue sucking the marrow out of life.

Biting not “nibbling” at injustice.

lentes01As for Alice Thomas, on graduating law school she remarked how she aspired to ‘nibble’ at injustice. Since I couldn’t locate her on the state bar’s membership directory, I’m not sure if she ever sat for the bar exam in Nevada. But all the same, that’s not stopped her from trying to make good on her aspirations and to do more than just nibble at injustice.

The now 82-year old Thomas has been busy. She founded and heads a non-profit organization called Civil Rights for Seniors to provide legal services to seniors and other Nevada residents and to empower them through advocacy. “Seniors must be our priority as they do not have time to regain their security and take part in the General Welfare, a guarantee under our Bill of Rights,” she told Senior Spectrum Newspaper.

It’s confidential.

People 153Last October, her organization made news despite losing a state supreme court case seeking expanded public access to Nevada’s Foreclosure Mediation Program records. The records are maintained by the Administrative Office of Courts (“AOC”), which is an arm of the Nevada Supreme Court. Thomas and her organization wanted access to those records to “verify one way or another whether the program is or is not a success.”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Sign_of_the_Times-Foreclosure.jpg/320px-Sign_of_the_Times-Foreclosure.jpgIt’s a good question even though overall I think Nevada’s Foreclosure Mediation Program has done more good than bad. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the program hasn’t been a mixed bag.

But how successful? That hasn’t been entirely clear. In 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal concluded “that independently assessing its effectiveness was difficult because of incomplete data and a far-reaching confidentiality policy that encompasses nearly all of its records.”

j0289753Civil Rights for Seniors tried testing the limits of that policy and ran into the same problems the newspaper did with respect to the “far-reaching confidentiality” of those records. The organization also made much of the fact the since the Nevada Supreme Court administers the foreclosure mediation program and shares in the fees — it had a conflict of interest. The Court’s decision is outrageous!” said Thomas. “I am not surprised, but since when can judges sit in judgment of themselves and decide their own cases?” The case is Civil Rights for Seniors v. AOC, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 80 (Oct 31, 2013).

NRS: Chapter 239 generally provides the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records held by governmental entities to the extent permitted by law. Civil Rights for Seniors’ records access efforts were turned back when the high court ruled the foreclosure mediation records held by AOC, a judicial entity, “are confidential as a matter of law.”

Despite this setback, I doubt it’s dissuaded Thomas and her legal team from persisting in efforts as she told “Senior Spectrum” to hold “those accountable who need to be held accountable” or from working to “create the conditions seniors need to flourish.”

Secret of life.

Like all the above-mentioned octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians, Thomas found her “one thing.” As Curly told Mitch in City Slickers, it’s what each of us has to find to get to our own “secret of life.”

In Curly’s words, it’s the “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.”

_____________________________________________________________

Photo Credits: “Not in Kansas Anymore,” by garlandcannon, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution;”Sign of the Times – Foreclosure,” by respres at Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Read Full Post »

“In deciding whether an attorney’s fee is an impermissible overcharge, “The test is whether the fee is ‘”so exorbitant and wholly disproportionate to the services performed as to shock the conscience.1  But whose conscience?

That used to be the test in California to measure the conscionability of attorneys’ fees. It was once expressly stated in the rules as whether the fees were “so exorbitant and wholly disproportionate to the services performed as to shock the conscience of lawyers of ordinary prudence practicing in the same community.”

It was fun telling non-lawyers about California’s ‘shock the conscience of lawyers‘ test. Will Rogers, after all, famously remarked, “I don’t think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of legislature. You’ve got to work on his conscience. And his lack of conscience is what makes him a lawyer.”

There’s little doubt the ‘shock the conscience’ test sprang from that old reliable “reasonable person” standard — here, the conduct of a reasonably prudent and competent lawyer.

Unfortunately, the current rule for “Fees for Legal Services,” Rule 4-200, under California’s Rules of Professional Conduct no longer includes that unintentionally risible ‘shock and awe’ language. It was the old Rule 2-107 that had the ‘shock the conscience’ test.

‘Shocking’ fees.

Business an 64The reasonableness of lawyer fees was on my mind last week on hearing about a La Jolla, California lawyer who allegedly helped himself to more than half a million dollars from the estates of two deceased clients. The lawyer says the fees were for legal services over a 9-year span. The California Bar has demurred and initiated disciplinary proceedings against the 76-year old lawyer.

From reports, it appears the lawyer’s problems stemmed from his having paid himself — without first obtaining the benedictions of the probate court. See Lawyer faces discipline over clients’ $500K | UTSanDiego.com Mobile

Interestingly, California ethics guru Attorney Diane Karpman wrote a few years ago in her California Bar Journal’s “Ethics Byte,” column that “Usually, the State Bar will not pursue an investigation when it’s solely a fee dispute.” That said, the fee complaint here was initiated by a charitable beneficiary who objected to the lawyer’s compensation.

A lot of moolah.

Half a million simoleons is a lot of money — for most people. Paraphrasing Everett Dirksen’s supposed quotation, a half a million here, a half a million there, “pretty soon you’re talking real money,”

Life on the Farm 49But it’s not like California’s probate statute doesn’t already allow lawyers to collect what everyday folks would call more than ‘reasonable’ fees for routine fill-in-the-forms work. Here’s a for instance. A comparatively modest, especially in California, $400,00 estate — basically the gross value of a house — even if it’s upside-down, and a non-fancy car, and nominal personal property generates a cool $11,000 in lawyer fees. No wonder the revocable living trust peddlers still clang that dinner bell.

California probate fees add up quickly when the statutory formula sets percentage fees according to the size of the gross estate. It’s 4% of the first $100,000; 3% on the next $100,000; 2% of the next $800,000; 1% of the next $900,000; and one-half percent of the next $15 million. For all amounts above $25 million, the court decides what’s “a reasonable amount.”

And those are the fees for garden-variety uncomplicated probates. It’s another matter entirely when it comes to what probate courts might allow lawyers for so-called “extraordinary services.”

Businessmen having disagreement uidAs for that La Jolla lawyer, the California Bar will determine whether or not any ethical rules were violated and whether or not sanctions will be recommended.

Eye of the beholder.

In her ethics column, Ms. Karpman also commented on an attorneys’ fee dispute concerning approximately $7.5 million dollars, which was heard by the California First District Court of Appeal. It was the case of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy v. Universal Paragon Corp. (Cal. App. 1 Dist. 2010)

People 2180The law firm was hired to handle what was described as complex litigation. The appellate court held that since the litigation was so complicated and the protracted fee negotiations between the attorneys and the client reflected an attempt by “equally matched parties” to share the risk of that complex litigation, it was not unconscionable that the contingency fee agreement was based on the value of the client’s higher presettlement damages estimate and not the much lower actual settlement value.

Black and White Business 29The bottom line was that the court affirmed the superior court judgment confirming the arbitrator’s multi-million dollar fee award. And no never mind that the attorneys’ fee award exceeded the value of the client’s settlement. For even more about the case, see lawyer ethics expert Carol Langford’s column, “Money, Money, Money.”

photoAll of which gets me to the final point. Ultimately, the reasonableness of attorney’s fees is like beauty — in the eye of the beholder. Or as a friend of mine used to say, “in the eye of the beer-holder.”

 

________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] SCOCAL, Tarver v. State Bar , 37 Cal.3d 122 available at: (http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/tarver-v-state-bar-30732) (last visited Saturday September 21, 2013).

Photo Credits: “best look of shock and awe ever. period.” by Mike Dunbar at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Will Rogers,” Wikipedia Commons, public domain; “Finance,” by Alan Cleaver at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution;”Beer Holders,” by Jo Jakeman at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.

Read Full Post »

photoFor someone so young, Californian Danny Reed has seen more than his share of pain and trouble. Sixteen years ago, while asleep in his tent at Nevada’s Burning Man festival, a drunk driver drove through his tent and left Danny partially disabled and with permanent brain damage. He was 21 years old.

Danny settled his personal injury suit for $815,000 and a special needs trust was created from the net proceeds with his mother as Special Trustee.

Then three years after that disaster, Danny was visited by more bad luck. A car ran him down in a cross-walk.

The cross-walk case also settled. And the net settlement proceeds from $900,000 were also put into a trust for Danny’s lifetime care.

Six figures for 4.5 months.

Four years ago, after a probate court investigator raised issues about the administration of Danny’s trust, the probate court removed his mother as trustee and temporarily appointed the Public Guardian. There was never a finding his mother had done anything but act properly and in good faith. Indeed, funds and assets were subsequently correctly accounted for to the satisfaction of the court and the parties.

But following several hearings and over Danny’s objections, the probate court nonetheless appointed Thomas Thorpe of Dragomir Fiduciary Services, Inc. to succeed the Public Guardian as temporary trustee of Danny’s special needs trust.

Here’s the rub. The trust specified that a successor trustee was not entitled to compensation. In fact, Danny’s mother received no compensation for her work as his trustee.

Thorpe, however, served for four and one-half months and billed the estate $108,771.07 for trustee and trustee attorney fees. When he petitioned the court for his fees, the trial court awarded him $51,285.63 over objections that the trust instrument prohibited compensation.

So Danny appealed the order. A few days ago, in a published opinion, which consequently makes law in California, the appellate court reversed the trial court and directed it to deny Thorpe’s fee petition.

The appellate court relied on the plain meaning of the trust provision that “a successor trustee . . . is not entitled to compensation.” It also relied on earlier precedents, which hold that a trustor has the right to specify a trustee’s compensation. And more importantly, that “it is not within the power of the court to change, alter or modify such provisions or to substitute its predilection for the expressed instruction of the [trustor].”

And besides the court said, under earlier case authority, if the successor trustee “deemed the amount of compensation specified in the trust to be inadequate, he could have refused to act.”

Thorpe may appeal to the California Supreme Court so Danny may not yet be off the hook.

Loss of trust.

Although California has long been considered a leader in enacting laws protecting its most vulnerable citizens, the system isn’t perfect.

Indeed, earlier this year, the San Jose Mercury News ran a two-part investigative report, “Loss of Trust”: Mercury News series on court-appointed conservators and trustees, “Part 1: Court-appointed personal and estate managers hand out costly and questionable bills” and “Part 2: Santa Clara County lacks rules to rein in fees.”

Danny’s case was highlighted in the report. It was hardly surprising, then, that when the Mercury News filed its story about the appellate court’s findings, it called it “stunning” and “a vindication.” See “Appellate court: Disabled San Jose man owes nothing to trustee and attorneys in bitter probate dispute.”

Back on the Arizona desert.

But back on the Arizona desert, guardianship fees amounting to saving villages by destroying them remained the order of business in the widely-reported case of Marie Long, the 88-year old destitute Phoenix woman who once had $1.3 million in 2005 and sought repayment of money from lawyers and others.

As reported by crusading Arizona Republic Columnist Laurie Roberts, “Marie Long’s story prompted both court and legislative reviews of Arizona’s Probate Court system. As a result, important changes were made, changes designed to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected rather than processed into the poorhouse. But all of those vaunted reforms did nothing for Marie, who was left penniless by the system that was supposed to protect her.” Also see “Maricopa County Probate Court – One ward is saved – but a life’s savings is lost.”

No relief for Marie.
businesses,cash,coins,money bags,monies,Photographs

On November 13th — just one month before the California Appeals Court did right by Danny Reed — the Arizona Supreme Court took a pass on Marie Long’s appeal of the Arizona Appellate Court’s decision upholding a lower court award of $840,000 in fees to Marie’s lawyers and fiduciaries.

The Arizona Appellate Court found no error or prejudice — even though it did not condone “the highly inappropriate conduct” of the trial judge’s ex-parte contacts with the lawyers seeking approval of their fees.

Contacts are ex parte when only one side of a dispute knows about them because the other side is never told. See “High court concernedjust not enough to help out widow.” Also see “Judge Lindsay Ellis survives immunity challenge in Marie Long case.”

Marie, now 91, remains a ward of the state.

_____________________________________________________________

Photo Credits: “Burning Man 2009,” By Mark Richardson, Kaloozer, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution.

Read Full Post »

Additional year-end CLE possibilities are provided below for the remaining procrastinators still short of year-end continuing legal education credit hours.

I picked up 1.5 credit hours this week and didn’t have to risk pepper spray-by-shopper amongst the holiday crowds. I attended the Webinar, Guardian Accountability and Monitoring: Where Do We Stand?” presented under the auspices of the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) National Elder Rights Training Project for the National Resource Center.

The program was well done and the presenters knowledgeable, including Jerry W. Hammond & Associates), Sally Hurme (AARP), Naomi Karp (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Office of Older Americans), and Erica Wood (ABA Commission on Law and Aging). See Presentations Recording

Additional National Elder Rights Training Project Webinars can be found at the NCLC website at: Webinars | Conferences & Training | NCLC

http://www.nclc.org/conferences-training/national-elder-rights-training-project.html

But also note you’ll need to submit such programs to your jurisdiction for CLE credit approval. For example, for Nevada credit, I used Form 2 available at the following link to the Nevada Board of Continuing Legal Education.

African descent,beverages,business,men,cell phones,coffees,cups,distortion,food,laptop computer,men,people,restaurants,suits,tables,technology,communications,working,occupations

And like a broken record (how is that for a dated reference?), don’t fault me if your state bar kaboshes your approval request or if you don’t like the content or the presenters or if a link gets broken or just otherwise – – – you’re an angry sourpuss because you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

[NCLC also states the following on its website: “Other webinar series also include topics focused on auto fraud and domestic violence survivors.  Webinars that are not part of an on-going series can be found at other webinars.”  http://www.nclc.org/conferences-training/webinars.html

_____________________________________________________________

aged,aging,alone,concerned,elderly,Fotolia,glasses,gray hair,handicapped,hearing aid,lonely,memories,nineties,nursing home,Photographs,seniors,sweaters,troubled,women,wrinkles

UC Irvine’s School of Medicine is offering a free online Webinar on Monday, December 12, 2011:Stopping Elder Financial Abuse: Promising Practices and How to Bring Them to Your Community.” It is supported by the Archstone Foundation. The Presenters are: Julie Schoen, Esq. and Shawna Reeves, MSW. The Webinar is hosted by the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect at UC Irvine.

The registration link is at
http://centeronelderabuse.adobeconnect.com/e7dw0iftmwe/event/registration.html

From their website: “UC Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect is committed to eliminating abuse of the elderly. Established with a grant from the Archstone Foundation, the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect is part of the School of Medicine’s Program in Geriatrics.”

Read Full Post »

Unfortunately, none of the principals are reflected in a very good light in Sunday’s tale by John Leland,Love and Inheritance: Anatomy of a Family Feud,” at NYTimes.com.

File:Celeste Holm in All About Eve trailer.jpgThe cast of characters starts with movie star Celeste Holm, now 94-years old, a bit addled, not in a good health, and married to a man almost half her age. Her husband is Frank Basile, age 48.

Who is Celeste Holm? For those unfamiliar, she was a notable screen star of a long-ago era, winning the 1947 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Gentleman’s Agreement.” And 3 years later, she was nominated for another supporting actress Oscar for “All About Eve.”

As the Times relates, the other members of the cast of this reality drama are Holm’s two sons, Daniel Dunning and Theodor Holm Nelson. Predictably enough, they were askance when someone much younger than they are took a supposed romantic interest in their elderly unattached parent. Think, for example, of Marshall v. Marshall and the long drawn out case of the late Vickie Lynn Marshall a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith and her fight with E. Pierce Marshall over the billion-dollar estate of a man 62 years older than she was, her late husband, J. Howard Marshall.

And I can remember another publicized case involving yet another famous personage, the late actor and comedian Groucho Marx. That estate battle involved Groucho’s much junior companion, Erin Fleming, and Groucho’s son, Arthur. See “A Day at the Courthouse.”

budgets,businesses,businessmen,competitions,dollar signs,men,metaphors,persons,symbols,tugs of war

But in Celeste Holm’s case, her sons have been at odds with Basile apparently from the start suspecting Basile’s supposed designs on their mother’s wealth.

Basile and Holm have been together 11 years. But after 5 years of litigation to overturn an irrevocable trust set up by Daniel Dunning, Holm’s $2 million liquid assets have mostly evaporated primarily in legal fees and other costs.

It’s a story all too familiar. And it’s also all too reminiscent of what happens when families squabble over an estate’s money. Yet another case-in-point is the one in Maricopa County, Arizona Probate Court last year concerning Marie Long, the “Elderly Millionaire Is Destitute After Payment of Fees for Lawyers and which I previously blogged about here.

A fight waged against you with your own money.

The irony of such battles, however, is that consistent with the law of trusts, a trustee has a duty to defend a trust against adverse claims. But here’s the rub. The disputatious families don’t always fully grasp that so long as that trustee acts in good faith, the trustee has the lawful right to pay legal fees from trust assets. See, for example, California Probate Code § 15684. Consequently, the fighting too often consumes the legacy, thus transforming the case into truly a fight over nothing.

PresentationPro,banks,businessmen,dollars,dreams,finances,happy,jumps,raining notes,silhouettes,successful,suits,wealth,winners,jackpot

And so when Basile and Holm commenced their litigation, Holm’s youngest son, as the trustee of the trust mounted a vigorous defense using the very trust assets meant to provide for Holm’s care and support. As the Times article notes, “Hanging over all parties is the question of why the lawsuit lasted so long and cost so much money – – – the very money they were fighting over.” And according to the story, separate from the costs incurred by her trustee son in defending Holm’s estate, Basile claims that he and his wife have litigation costs of their own, which exceed $1.5 million.

But missing from the story, is the answer to the above-asked questions. “Why has the suit dragged on?”  “Why has it cost so much?”

One can only speculate. But besides the litigants, I suspect one has to also examine the role the lawyers have played for each side.

Admittedly, I am not privy to the particulars of Holm’s case other than what I read in the newspaper. Litigation, especially at the higher end Big Law levels, is extraordinarily expensive.

But apart from the Holm case, I do know this much. Whenever there’s protracted, expensive litigation, the parties are often blameworthy but the lawyers also play no small part.

To your last dollar.

A cynical lawyer friend I know who once did a lot of contingency work, which are cases where clients have no ‘skin’ in the game, was fond of admonishing, “Clients are always willing to fight to your last dollar.” But I also think the inverse is often true. Some lawyers are just as willing to fight to a client’s last dollar.

businesses,businessmen,businesspeople,currencies,dollars,ideas,men,metaphors,monies,paying for ideas,persons,valuable ideas,web animations,web elements

So here’s the moral of any story whenever it comes to family squabbles over an estate. When litigants refuse to consider early settlement offers or disregard prudence over what they term “principle,” far too often, assuming they’re getting paid, only the lawyers win.

Read Full Post »

Not to diminish the substantive good work found in the Final Report just issued by the “Committee on Improving Judicial Oversight and Processing of Probate Court Matters” but one recommendation sure to garner notice is the proposal that the Arizona Legislature “could assess $1 for issuance of a death certificate, which could be paid to a fund to use for post-appointment case review, including visitation.”

That the dead may help safeguard the living may strike some as unsettling but we are talking about probate, after all. Moreover, when government budgets are constrained and new revenues are sparse, it’s to the credit of the Committee that they are leaving “no [head]stone unturned” and [don’t pardon the additional pun] “thinking outside the box.”

The Committee extrapolates, “In Arizona in 2009, approximately 45,000 people died. Assuming an average of three death certificates per person were issued, the surcharge would generate $135,000 annually. Assuming an average of five death certificates per person were issued, the surcharge would generate approximately $225,000 annually.”

A good report.

All in all, though, it is good work. The Final Report was released to the public earlier this month and now goes to the Arizona Judicial Council for its review of the Committee’s recommendations on substantive reforms of the Arizona Probate Courts. The report can be accessed at Final Report to AJC – Arizona Judicial Branch. Also see The Arizona Republic’s summary at Maricopa County Probate Court: Reform weighed to protect life savings.”

The Committee’s work was prompted in large part by public criticism of the probate courts that ratched up, most notably through the intrepid, fearless and unceasing reporting via Laurie Roberts’ Columns & Blog as well as some terrific investigative journalism from The Arizona Republic. See http://www.azcentral.com/news/probate/probate-index.php

Bones to pick.

But hallelujahs aside, I do have a few bones to pick. For example, there’s the matter concerning the setting of fees, which I believe the Committee dodged, preferring instead to leave it to “guidelines” and market forces, even though much of the criticism is precisely over fees, particularly in Robert Anglen’s careful analysis at “Lawyers often ratchet up fees” where he writes, “Probate attorneys’ hourly rates have risen faster than inflation over the past decade. In 2004, for example, a court-appointed attorney in one complex case charged $160 an hour. By 2008, typical rates had nearly doubled to more than $300 an hour. From 2004 to 2008, inflation rose nationally a little over 15 percent, according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.”

The second concern has to do with the Committee also dodging the matter of probate attorneys who also serve as judge pro tems, saying, “The Committee does not discern a need for new rules to guard against inappropriate contact between part-time pro tem judges and full-time judicial officers.” And if that’s not clear, further adding that, “The Committee was not charged with responsibility to investigate the use of pro tem judges in any particular case, was not equipped to do so, and has not done so.”
                                                                                                                                                                          But at least the Committee’s Final Report acknowledged the concerns over inherent possible conflicts that may arise, e.g., “that an attorney in a contested probate matter may feel constrained to vigorously argue against opposing counsel who also serves as a pro tem judge for fear it may affect the outcome of a future case decided by that person in a pro tem capacity.
“It was also suggested that attorneys who also serve as part-time pro tem judges may develop closer relationships with judicial officers, thereby leading to potentially improper communications.”
But not to worry.
But because judge pro tems are used infrequently and “sporadically,” the Committee seems to sing,Don’t Worry Be Happy.”
And as for ex parte contacts, “The Committee does not discern a need for new rules to guard against inappropriate contact between part-time pro tem judges and full-time judicial officers. Ethical rules in place for attorneys and judicial officers prohibit ex parte communications between the two while court matters are pending that involve both parties.”
But for another take on how well that sometimes works in practice, see “Judge Lindsay Ellis survives immunity challenge in Marie Long case.”
The positives.
So to sum up, the direction is positive. The prospects for the future of probate reform are guardedly optimistic.
Kudos to calls for improved training not only of judicial officers, lawyers and investigators but for unlicensed fiduciaries.
‘Atta-boys’ go to the recommendations for “good faith” budget estimating; for estate sustainability analyses (although I think the Report needlessly convolutes that); for enhanced alternative dispute resolution options; for electronically streamlining of court forms and for better, less expensive court access; and especially, for calls for improved post-appointment visitation of wards.

Read Full Post »

File:Maltese 600.jpg

A Maltese but not Trouble.

Doesn’t matter if you’re Leona Helmsley’s dog, the Maltese Trouble, or one of the lesser known dogs and cats of Kay Elaine Johnston discussed below. Seems you just can’t leave big bucks to your pets – – – not unless you do everything strictly by the book and especially, without monkey business. 

chihuahua,dogs,fotolia,funny,pets,dressed up

Last summer, there was the tail (sic) of Conchita the Chihuahua. She was left $3 million bucks by the late Gail Posner who died of cancer and left her posh Miami Beach digs to her dog to live in the comfort and style she’d grown accustomed to. And of course, there was a relative that objected to the bowwow benevolent bequest.

World’s oldest dog?

And who can forget the oft-told but likely apocryphal story about the caretaker with the world’s oldest living dog. The caretaker had been appointed in the decedent’s will to take care of a much beloved black labrador retriever. But after the dog died, the ‘creative’ caretaker kept replacing the black lab with a similar looking dog so she could keep receiving payments under the pet trust.

But in the case of the late Kay Elaine Johnston, Probate Court Judge Susan Tate said there was dissimulation of a different kind. Judge Tate ruled there was “deception” when the decedent’s lawyer, Robert Johnson, named Kyria Wilhite as caretaker for the 50 cats and 6 dogs that had been cared for by Kay Elaine Johnston. To care for her beloved animals, Wilhite was to receive $50,000 a year plus expenses and “reasonable compensation” for her services.

The problem was that lawyer Robert Johnson failed to tell anyone that caretaker Wilhite was also his girlfriend when he prepared Kay Johnston’s will. Yah think there was anything ethically wrong with that? (Surprisingly, even though Carol Phillips, the decedent’s cousin, complained about this to the Georgia State Bar, her complaint was dismissed. Go figure). See “New turn in dispute of estate and Georgia judge overturns will for pet care.”

After Johnston’s December 2007 death, in addition for caring for the pets, Wilhite got the house and 7 acres of Johnston’s property. Wilhite and Johnston, however, had only known each other a couple of months. But then the elderly do make especially fast friends and confidants.  Yah think? A video news link to the story is at http://www.11alive.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=919963163001

Good pay for picking up milk.

beverages,calcium,carton of milk,cartons,cartons of milk,cropped images,cropped pictures,dairies,drinks,food,milk,PNG,transparent background

And shades of Maricopa County, Arizona and its well-documented probate abuses, which are supposedly all better now thanks to recently signed probate reform legislation, lawyer Johnson billed the estate for every nickel-dime visit to Kay Johnston’s home. (Also see If anyone’s listening, here’s a way to cut through the competing probate reform noise at the AZ legislature.”)

Maybe, he thought, like some lawyers and professional fiduciaries apparently do, that since his fee was such a ‘bargain’ at $150.00 per hour, he could charge for every picayune visit and task whether it involved professional services work or not.

Carol Phillips, though, didn’t buy that malarkey, saying of her late cousin and her ‘helpful’ lawyer, “If she said, ‘I want a gallon of milk,’ he’d go to the grocery store and charge his lawyer fee to get it, plus the milk. Everything he did, he charged for.” But then, isn’t what they always do? Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/georgia/2011-04-26/story/georgia-judge-overturns-will-pet-care#ixzz1LEHqpcVa

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers